The Plight of the Neophyte

By Eric Kiker, Partner/Chief Strategy Officer, LRXD 

Just about every partner company in the ad-marketing industry has faced the conundrum of pitching an account without having category experience. But, as the old saying goes, “You can’t get the experience without the job.”

Still, some brand marketers and agencies which lack specific category experience, believe an outsider’s perspective, coupled with creativity and childlike enthusiasm, can overcome the full-grown adult prowess of highly experienced, battle-seasoned shops.

If this is you, one might respectfully ask, are you crazy?
It’s an especially relevant question when, according to Peter Levitan’s, The Levitan Pitch: Buy This Book. Win More Pitches, the average new-business pitch costs at least $35K, and often much more.

Let’s pose this hypothetical conversation between you and the CPG client your creatives have decided they want.  

“We’d be an excellent agency for your business.”
“Great, I’d love to hear about your CPG experience.”
“We’re a bit thin there, but our outsider’s perspective offers a clear advantage.”
“Do you understand how the sales cycle works in our category?”
“Not exactly, but you’ll discover we are unencumbered by stereotypically biased ideas...”
“Do you know which tactics are approproiate in various markets with vastly different levels of distribution?”
“…and we’re an award-winning creative shop.”
“Do you have a grasp on customer segmentation, per market, per retailer?”
“Why don’t I see myself out.”

It’s like an eight-year old, whose excitement far outsretches the length of his legs as he screams, “But I want to drive the Porsche!”
Forget CPG. What about restaurants? Plenty of opportunity there, especially when the National Restaurant Association projects 2017 sales of nearly $800 billion, up 4.3% over 2016. And with 30% of all restaurants belonging to a multi-unit brand, there are plenty of restaurant-chain accounts to pursue. But only if the agency has experience executing the very specific formula for restaurant success — and its work boosted client profits.

Forget restaurants. How about diet and fitness? The International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association estimates the market size at 151 million members visiting 187,000 clubs globally. According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, 30% of the world’s population is either obese or overweight, meaning consumers literally may be dying for your help. However, with opportunity comes competitive marketing dollars — which makes keeping the sales funnel not only full, but converting at a low cost of acquisition, which is an expert’s game.

This is the plight of the neophyte.
Yet, lack of category experience doesn’t necessarily mean an agency will be excluded forever. Think of the verticals in which the agency possesses some level of mastery. How did the agency gain that expertise? Most likely, it started with a small local client. Why not use the same approach when targeting new categories?

To break into CPG, attend one of the larger tradeshows, including the 800-pound non-GMO, allergen-free, organic gorilla, Natural Products Expo West (and/or East). Search the aisles for the upstarts that have less distribution and fewer dollars to match.

The advice is the same for any new category: select brands that lack scale and big budgets but have proof of concept. Agencies might consider putting skin in the game with the offer of a revenue-sharing financial model. 

There is realistic hope of breaking into new categories, but be aware that clients, regardless of size, tend to be more comfortable with agencies that have a track record of solving the exact problems they currently face. And the more frequently, the better.

As mundane as the news may be to your creative department, brands do want the hammer, well worn by banging away at the same nail.

Recognize what Advertising Age referred to as “adland’s new era of specialization,” and your legs will soon be long enough to reach the pedals of that Porsche.